Sept. 1, 2014
In the U.S., people who flee New England snow in the winter for Florida are nicknamed snowbirds.
But in South Africa, where snow is rare, I witnessed a different type of snowbird: the ones who flock to it when it actually hits the ground.
The snowbird phenomenon in Hogsback, a mountain retreat with a sprinkling of hippie counterculture, was in full force this last weekend of South Africa’s winter. Hundreds of people in their cars were on the dirt, or more accurately, mud “roads” of Hogsback the Saturday after a snowstorm dropped 3-4 inches on the area.
So imagine a two-lane dirt road with deep ditches and a steep incline with car after car parked along the roadside, sitting half in the ditch and half in the road (and again a mud road with potholes interspersed to test driving dexterity).
Add to that families of folks trying to cross the road, crawl over or under wire fences and reach snow to build snowmen, have snowball fights or just stand and take their picture in it.
Oh, and just to make things on the mud roads more interesting, people were building mini-snowmen on their car hoods, blocking the left side of the windshield. While I have adjusted to driving on the left and sitting in a driver’s seat on the right, I kept seeing these 1-1.5-foot tall snowmen on car hoods and wondering how anyone could DRIVE with a pile of snow partially blocking their view. Plus, the hood snowmen were decked out with scarves or carrot noses and rock eyes, maybe a little cap.
Of course WE were driving as well, trying to weave our way up the road to a snowy spot for romping. Well, I wasn’t going to go romping. After shoveling nearly 60 inches of snow this past winter in Boston, this was NOT a big deal for me.
I also know that I’ll be knee-deep in the snow business within four months back home so I referred to this snow in Hogsback as the kind we literally and figuratively brush off back in Boston. But I tried really really hard not to sound too jaded. My travel companions – Kayla, Martha and Daneel – were most tolerant.
But some folks on the muddy roads were not as careful as Daneel in navigating the treacherous terrain. The scariest encounter was an small Isuzu pickup track with rear-wheel drive that was sliding sideways as it tried to gain traction on a muddy incline on the road two cars in front of us – with cars parked on either side of the road. Nor were drivers in 4-wheel-drive SUVs cognizant that their spinning wheels in holes on inclines create hazards for the non-SUV types (like us in Daneel’s trusty VW Polo) .
Still, we got to our little cottage apartment retreats (with a small heater, warm shower and flushing toilet).The lodge was a 250-meter walk along a damp, sometimes muddy path from the main reception area (which provided wifi 9a-5p) in the encampment called “Away with the Fairies.”
It’s a favorite for backpackers and “Lord of the Rings” aficionados (as if the designation of “Gandolf’s Den” for a room wasn’t hint enough).
I did not get a Faerie card reading nor check out the next-door couple’s hookah ( I know, I’m such a Debbie Downer). Still a weekend in the country people-watching folks from Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth and East London frolic in the snow was quite memorable.